Summary of Gita Chapter 3 – Part 1
The Gita teaches a man, how to attain spiritual perfection by performing one’s duty. It inspires him to perform actions, rather than to renounce them. Chapter three establishes the fact by various points of view that the performance of prescribed duties is obligatory for everyone. Here Lord Krishna categorically and comprehensively explains how it is the duty of each and every member of society to carry out their functions and responsibilities in their respective stage of life according to the rules and regulations of the society in which one lives. Further the Lord explains why such duties must be performed, what benefit is gained by performing them, what harm is caused by not performing them. Plus what actions lead to bondage and what actions lead to salvation. All these points relating to duty have been described in great detail. Thus this chapter is entitled: The Eternal Duties of Human Beings. Sri Krishna explains the meaning of ‘kartavya’, (Duty) its importance and the dynamics of right action. When we perform our obligatory duties, the mind and heart is slowly purified. Purification of the mind is a pre requisite to the silence we are seeking. The path of Karma Yoga purifies the mind, apart from giving us the worldly results. Action should be performed as worship of the Lord, with an attitude of dedication, detachment, service and surrender, and the results of action received with devotion, as ‘Prasada’ (sacrament). This is Karma Yoga. In this way the mind and heart gains equanimity, stillness and purification, and our personal likes and dislikes are destroyed. This is the best way to reach the Lord. Karma Yoga is not some special action. Even the lowest action performed with devotion, takes us closer to the Lord.
This Chapter of the Bhagavad Gita indicates the state of mind of Arjuna who is caught between his duties as a warrior to fight his own people and at the same time his love for his relatives. He starts by questioning Lord Krishna about why he should engage himself in an action which will cause so much of destruction to human lives’. The gist of the chapter is how Lord Krishna explains to Arjuna about the duties each individual has towards himself, his family and most of all to the society and that is the essence of Karma Yoga.
Due to the praising of both jnana yoga and karma yoga in a seemingly equal manner some conflict arises in Arjuna’s mind and he became confused. Although Arjuna was bewildered he could still understand that Lord Krishna valued the cultivation of spiritual knowledge as being superior to activities without attachment and he could also understand that if Lord Krishna was ordering him to fight this must be also for his betterment as well. The Lord did not specify which path Arjuna was qualified for as yet and thus Arjuna was in a dilemma and needed a clear, definitive instruction that would end his confusion. Arjuna requests Lord Krishna to tell him decisively, one principle either of action or of knowledge, by which he may attain the highest good or bliss. Arjuna asks Bhagavan, “Krishna, if you consider knowledge as superior to action, why then do you urge me to do this dreadful action! My mind is puzzled; therefore tell me the one discipline by which I may attain the highest Goal.”
Sri Krishna explains thus: Arjuna, in this world two paths have been enunciated by Me in the past. In the case of Sankhya yogi (intellectual), the practice proceeds along the path of knowledge, whereas in the case of the Karma yogi (action oriented man) it proceeds along the path of action. None can remain inactive even for a moment; everyone is driven to action by nature born qualities. Therefore perform your allotted duty, for action is superior to inaction. Desisting from action, you cannot even maintain your body. He, who does not follow the wheel of creation, i.e. does not perform his duties, lives in vain. He however, who takes delight in the Self alone and is gratified and contented with the self, has no duty. Therefore always efficiently do your duty without attachment. Doing work without attachment is when man attains supreme bliss.
It has been established that activities prescribed in the Vedic scriptures performed without anticipation of rewards are conducive for spiritual development. Without this inner consciousness one is not qualified for jnana yoga or the cultivation of spiritual knowledge. All those who forcefully restrain their senses under the pretext of meditation but is inwardly reflecting on the objects of the senses is a cheat and a charlatan. Being impure the mind of such an impostor lacks the tranquillity and lucidity to practice such meditation. It is attachment, and not actions or their fruit that is the root of all evils. Attachment is the main stumbling block to perfection. One should perform the duties prescribed in the Vedic scriptures appropriate for ones stage in life. Generally, a person does an act promptly and efficiently, only if it serves his selfish motive, but such an action binds him. In order to be free from the bondage, he should perform actions prescribed by the scriptures, disinterestedly. Actions should be performed as a sacrifice to the Supreme Lord and no sacrifice should ever be performed with an intention for reward.
God has created the entire world with a spirit of sacrifice and service. Look around and see yourself! The sun, moon, sea, river, trees…. All serve others selflessly without expecting anything in return. Only human beings are selfish. We can only progress when we start doing selfless service to others without expecting anything in return. At the beginning of creation, Brahma, the creator, created man by providing him with power for performing actions and also bestowed upon him discrimination to choose the right use of desirable and undesirable circumstances that leads to salvation. A Karma yogi (the follower of the Discipline of Action), is ever ready to render service or do good to others. Therefore, according to the ordinance of Brahma, such a Karma yogi does not lack the required capacity and material for rendering service to others, and for the maintenance of his body. All this required material is easily available to him.
The second topic in the 3rd chapter is yajna or sacrifice. Man is bound by every action he performs, unless he does it as a sacrifice. One should not be bound by the outcome of one’s action. This implies that mankind will prosper in this world only by giving. Now if we think about Lord Krishna who is the God of Gods has no duty to perform, but He worked so hard (even as a Charioteer) that we may follow his examples and attain a level of spirituality.
Action is of three types.
Satvic karma (Selfless action), Rajaisic karma (Selfish action) and Tamaisic karma (Harmful action).
The pancha maha yajna prescribed in the scriptures is a satvic karma that produced fast spiritual progress.
Deva yajna – A portion of the day should be allotted to worship of God. It should be exclusive time that is not coupled with other work.
Pitru yajna – Worship of forefathers. Any kind of worship as per the family tradition is fine.
Rishi yajna – Worship of our scriptures. Scriptures should be preserved and propagated. Daily reading of some scripture like Ramayana, Bhagavata, Gita, etc. is mandatory.
Manushya yajna – All types of social service to human beings are covered under this.
Bhoota yajna – All environmental and animal protection come under this.
A person should contribute more than he consumes, so that he is not a burden to the earth. As per Karma Yoga, if an action resulted in more giving and less taking, it is considered as a successful action. It is an accepted fact that the body, senses, mind, intellect and possessions are neither ours nor for us. We owe this body to our parents, and it is they, who have fostered it. For our knowledge, we are grateful to our preceptors and sages. Thus, whatever material, strength, ability, rank, authority, wealth and property we possess, we owe it all, to others. So whatever we possess should be devoted to the service of others. The person who without repaying the rightful due of others and enjoys the objects himself, is a thief. Thus a thief is, he who performs actions with a selfish motive in order to gain honour and praise etc. Such a person can never gain purity and peace of mind. A selfish man is not liked or praised by anyone. In a family, objects get concealed from a passionate and pleasure-seeking person. On the other hand, if a person serves others with all his resources, he attains salvation and is also praised, honoured, comforted and supplied things, even though he is unwilling to receive them.
If we sincerely perform our respective duties, we will add immensely, to the welfare of the world. Success of any organization or society is solely depended on its members. If it has members who are intelligent, hardworking, dedicated and working with a sense of sacrifice, such organization will grow and prosper .The man who does not perform his prescribed duties is a thief and a burden to the society.
Actions are performed in two ways-either in order to satisfy desire or to get rid of desire. Common men work in order to satisfy their desires, while a Karma yogi performs actions, in order to get rid of desires. Therefore, an enlightened soul being free from desire has not the least affinity for the performance of duty. Actions are performed by him, automatically without any selfish motive, for the welfare of the entire creation. It is attachment, not action, which leads to one’s downfall. Being attached to the body, senses, mind, intellect and other mundane objects etc., a man performs actions, in order to derive pleasure out of them. This attachment for the materialistic objects etc., leads him to the cycle of birth and death. By performing actions for the welfare of others, we get out of the old debt and we cease to run into new debt, as we perform actions in a disinterested way. Thus, we are liberated from bondage. Duty is that, which must be done for the welfare of others, according to the ordinance of the scriptures and according to one’s capacity, by renouncing one’s selfish motive.
So long as a person assumes his affinity for the world, he rejoices in the sensual pleasures, wife, sons and family, remains satisfied with food and is content in riches. But they cannot provide him with perfect and lasting rejoicing, satisfaction and contentment, because the world is ever-changing, insentient and perishable while the self is uniform, sentient and imperishable. So how can the self be satisfied and be contented with the world, when there is not even the least affinity between the two? The aim of the performance of actions for a man is to attain salvation or God-realization. When this aim is achieved by anyone following the Disciplines of Actions, Knowledge or Devotion, nothing remains to be done, known and acquired by him and that is the supreme achievement of a human life. An action is performed, when there is desire to acquire something, and desire is born of want. The enlightened souls have no want, so they have to do nothing.